After not getting any sleep in the past 48 hours due to preparations for the trip and only getting 30-minute naps during the 15-hour flight from Hong Kong to New York, I thought that I’d be able to get a decent amount of sleep.
I hit the bed around 11 last night and got woken up at 1:00 AM. I don’t think I’d be able to manage to sleep again, but I’ll try to take a nap before I leave for work at 7 or so.
From the apartment to HKIA
The company driver picked me up from the apartment at 3:00 AM. We proceeded to the office to fetch Fulton, a teammate who’s headed for London. We met Mary at the airport, and then boarded the same flight bound for Hong Kong. The Cathay Pacific plane took off at 6.30 AM and touched down at the smoggiest place I know, that is Hong Kong International Airport (or the whole of Hong Kong/Southern China, for that matter) at 8.30 AM.
There was a 20-minute delay in our flight from Manila due to paper work.
HKIA is probably one of the best airports in the world. It’s super huge, super modern and somehow super efficient. Because of its enormous size, it took Mary and I about 30 minutes to get from gate 42 to gate 2. We walked for about 20 minutes and hopped into a train that would take us to the other side of the airport.
HKIA to JFK
We left HKIA at 10.30 for JFK aboard Cathay Pacific Airbus-340 600. Except for the cramped space, the airline provided excellent service. Food and booze was nearly overflowing, unlike in other airlines where only the passengers of business class and up could have wine on-demand.
My reservation ticket indicated that I only had one meal during the 15-hour flight. However, when we were already on board, the staff immediately served us lunch. Passengers could choose from pork, chicken, seafood, and pasta. I opted for the seafood meal dipped in sechuan sauce with some random veggies. I know that airline food are abysmal, but the one served in Cathay was not bad at all.
The crew then gave a variety of choices for drinks–soda, juices, tea, coffee, and wine. At first I thought that the wine was reserved for first-class passengers only. However, after serving food and drinks, the flight attendants made another round of the cabin to offer white and red wines. This time, I had a glass.
We had two meals and one snacks during the long flight. In between, you could ask the crew to give you noodles (they serve our very own Nissin Cup Noodles), nuts, energy bars, biscuits, and packed fruits. Passengers could also get any of the drinks I mentioned above. You could ask for extra servings of butter, buns, and whatever you may fancy from the food trays, except for the main course.
I had some scary moments aboard the aircraft due to turbulence. We hit major rough air packets about three times. These were so bad that the captain had to order the cabin crew to take their seats and everyone to fasten their seatbelts.
Note to self next time–take the aisle seat so you could easily stand when you’re cramping or go to the restroom when you have to without bothering your seatmate. By hour ten, my whole body was aching. There was nothing much to do except watch videos, read or catch some sleep.
The captain announced our approach to JFK around 30 minutes before touching down.
As expected, we had to line up for Immigration clearance at JFK. We fell in line for about 45 minutes. It was scary because this was the last clearing house before one could finally enter the US. Fortunately, I guess, the guy who interviewed me was Chinese. He was really friendly and spoke Chinese with the Chinese family ahead of me.
For good or bad, because he didn’t speak English that well, all he could do was act smug and ask why I was visiting the US (training, meetings), what trainings I would be taking (well, the client’s business) and how long I was supposed to be here (about a month). He stamped “admitted” and wrote “Feb 17, 2008″ on my I-94 card. Yey!
“Bagong Salta” goes to New York
Good Lord, it was almost insulting when one of the guards asked, “Does she speak English?” when he noticed I wasn’t pushing my trolley properly. I realized later that I had to push the handle to allow the wheels to roll. Mary said yes and explained that we had had a long day.
Lokong pulis na yun, baka di nya alam na mas maayos pa ang grammar ko sa kanya. But anyway…
I was really tired, dazed and starving by the time we reached JFK and I still marvel at how I was able to give the correct answers to the Asian immigration officer. At gate 7’s lobby, there were chauffeurs waiting for their passengers. Now, my real “immersion” hit a tough spot: how to get out of JFK and reach my hotel without blowing an enormous amount of money or get ripped off by a cab driver.
Thank God I asked for help from Keng, heaven’s answer to a girl who’s going to the center of the universe for the first time. He was already on the train when I called him. What a relief it was when he appeared on my view at the airport, I just gave him the best hug I could. (Naks! Parang movie scene!). After a little introductory chit-chat with him, Mary went ahead to her sister’s apartment in north of Manhattan.
First taste of the cold–shocking cold–weather
After sharing an enormous Subway sandwich with Keng at the airport, we crossed the street to the air train. As we were crossing the street, I had my first taste of shockingly cold New York weather. I had put on my white thermal jacket before going out, still I wasn’t prepared for how freezing it REALLY was. Halfway through crossing the street, I was already shivering.
I thought my lungs would freeze when I gasped for air as the shock hit me.
Taking the subway
Keng decided to kick-start my NYC immersion with the public transportation system. Whoever thought of the air train should be awarded with 10 thousand good karmas. Keng deserves the same, but we’ll get to that later.
We boarded the Jamaica air train and got off at–I assume–Jamaica in Queens (??). A friendly black guy realized while we were waiting for the train that we would have a hard time pulling around my luggage, so he informed us that we could take the trolley and leave it at the last station. When we reached the last stop, there really was a trolley station.
I bought my first card worth $20. It has $4 extra credit. We took the E-train that would take us to 42nd street in Manhattan where we could get into a Port Authority Bus that would take us to Secaucus, New Jersey where the hotel was located.
The multi-level 42nd street station was enormous by any measure. Everybody was on a rush (on a Sunday afternoon!), but people were mostly nice and ready to hold doors for you or answer your questions, if you seemed to be lost or unsure of what train or bus to take.
We bought a ticket for Bus 129. Unfortunately, we took the wrong bus and so we missed the stop by miles off. We called the hotel, but the person manning the desk wasn’t of so much help. We had no choice but to take a cab.
I was already feeling miserable for ourselves, and sorry to Keng because the whole picking up at the airport thing was no small feat. Cold, tired, hungry and very very lost in Nowhereland, New Jersey, we waited for a cab. Thankfully, we were spotted by this goodhearted taxi driver who was supposed to pick up a passenger, but realized just how miserable we looked in the freezing cold and windy night.
He stopped his Lincoln cab and helped us with the luggage. Man–a Lincoln taxi! In the Philippines, only millionnaire businessmen could own (or ride in) a Lincoln! I felt like a million already, LOL!
On the way to the hotel, he told us what bus to take next time (320) and where we could flag it (in front of the hotel). Finally, we got to the hotel, which was right behind Loewe’s Theatre. I forgot the name of the place where the Loewe’s is situated with restaurants, some familiar food joints (BK, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chili’s), and a shop.
The slightly harrassed pretty black lady manning the desk asked for my name and some form of identification. I gave my company ID first, but she preferred my passport. Next, she asked for my AMEX. After verifying my identity and making sure that the AMEX was working, she charged a full week’s worth of stay on the card and gave some basic info about the hotel. I asked her to add the one-time payment of $4.99 for wi-fi connection.
Because my reservation slip had indicated a 3-month stay here, she decided to wave off my internet fees. Goodie! Taking the two key cards, my wifi-password and my room’s extension number, I went to the room with Keng.
It was such a relief when Keng and I entered the room. In fairness, the studio suite is very decent–it has a small kitchen, dinner and office table in one, computer chairs, large maroon couch, a ginormous TV, a comfortable queen-size bed and fast wi-fi, what else can I ask for?
Well, apparently, the hot shower wasn’t working when I tried it last night. I’ve got to call the front desk for help. Either it isn’t working or I’m just an idiot for not knowing how to use the shower knobs. But try as I could, there was no way I could force hot water out of the nozzle.
Warming up at the hotel and Keng treats Kaye to dinner
As I was unpacking the clothes that I’d be wearing for the next four work days, Keng brewed coffee for us. As we settled down, I got into full-on ADD-induced multitasking mode: unpacking, watching TV, drinking coffee, setting up my wireless connection and e-mailing my colleagues in Manila and NYC.
Keng and I, being good friends from the good ol’ days of UP, talked about our careers, plans for the future and just-concluded love lives. It was fun talking to him. He’s sweet as ever, funny as hell, unbelievably intelligent and ever-ready for bastus jokes. How I wish that Tina and Schiera were with us last night to complete the circle of green minded friends. He texted Tina last night on the way to NJ, but she didn’t reply.
After about an hour, we got hungry and decided to brave the cold night to look for a restaurant nearby. Fortunately, a restaurant row was about a stone’s throw away, right in front of Loewe’s Theatre. Keng treated me to Chili’s where we had chicken fillet with veggie sticks and dips, two barbeque ribs with an enormous serving of fries, and lemon water. The tab was $27, but with taxes and tips, the bill reached $30 for both of us. I guess it’s a lot here already, but that’s freakin’ Chili’s.
The only Chili’s one could find in Makati is at Greenbelt 1 and you’d have to pay through the nose for a plate.
The serving size was good for two. That or maybe because I’m tiny myself and so used to tiny servings. But in any case, I couldn’t finish any of the plates that we ordered. I guess I owe Keng a dinner…I’ll do that when I visit him after the Thanksgiving weekend. Sshhh…
We returned to the hotel after looking for the 320 bus stop. He had let me go ahead to my room so he could wait for his bus. Unfortunately, the driver of the 9:30 bus didn’t stop for Keng, so my friend knocked on my door just about 10 minutes after I left him at the bus stop. He stayed for another hour waiting for the next bus to arrive.
Jet lag kicks in
I hit the bed at 10.30 after asking for help with activating my cell’s roaming through e-mail. By 1:00 AM, I woke up and couldn’t go to sleep anymore no matter how I tried. So what’s a chick gonna do when she’s jet lagged?
Why, blog, of course!
(NOTE: I included date and time stamps on the photos to show just how early in the morning I’m awake and blogging. Please excuse whatever grammatical errors you might have found–there are many–since my brain is still on a fritz.)